Three plays into the Seahawks’ opener, safeties Earl Thomas and Bradley McDougald nearly teamed up for a huge play. Thomas broke on a Case Keenum pass over the middle of the field, tipping the ball in the air, and McDougald came flying in for a near interception.
By the time the game was over, those two had teamed up for three interceptions—two by McDougald and one by Thomas—10 tackles and four passes defensed, making Seattle’s safety play a bright spot in a Week 1 loss at Denver.
And with the Seahawks heading to Chicago potentially shorthanded on defense, the play of Seattle’s two veteran safeties will be as crucial as ever when the Seahawks play the Bears Monday night. Linebackers Bobby Wagner (groin) and K.J. Wright (knee) both missed practice on Thursday and Friday, as did rookie cornerback Tre Flowers (hamstring) another Week 1 starter, and cornerback Shaquill Griffin was held out Friday with a thigh injury. And while the Seahawks have confidence in the players who might have to fill in this week if some or all of those injured players can’t go, it also certainly helps to have confidence in the two players on the back end of the defense.
“They did really well,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of McDougald and Thomas. “Really, we missed another (interception), too. Right off the bat, Earl makes a terrific break on the ball, knocks the ball up and B-Mac had the ball in his hands. He could’ve had a third on that day. The guys did a really nice job. They made the plays they needed to for the most part and all that."
Carroll said “for the most part” because as he would go on to point out, the Seahawks gave up a pair of long touchdown receptions, the kinds of plays that make all the difference in a close game.
“We should’ve got them on the ground on that,” Carroll said. “You hope your safeties get that done after we broke down earlier, but they played good football. I made the comment to the team, I thought they really came through.”
Carroll said after the game, then again during the week, that the breakdowns that led to the touchdowns should be easily corrected, and McDougald said the process of cleaning that up is already underway this week.
“Practice, that’s how you get rid of it,” McDougald said. “You drill it in practice. You go and work it, you go rep it, see it at high speed and you just get back to your rules. Everybody has rules in every defense, everybody has a responsibility, and everybody just has to hold true to those. We’ve seen it, we got to correct it, and we’ve got to move on. Now we’re anticipating how Chicago’s going to make big plays on us. That’s what this week is all for. Review things, watch film, and see how they’re going to try and attack us, and be prepared for it.”
While McDougald was around to enjoy a strong training camp with the Seahawks, working as a starter at both safety spots at different times, Thomas only rejoined the team last Wednesday, meaning those two had just three practices together, plus walk-throughs, before playing a meaningful game. McDougald pointed to the time he and Thomas played alongside each other last season when he started the final seven games at strong safety after Kam Chancellor was placed on injured reserve for helping him and Thomas get off to a quick start.
“It felt great to play with Earl, of course, have him back out there,” McDougald said. “I think the games last year helped us. We kind of have a little bond, a little chemistry. You’ve been in the system for so long and you’ve done the same things for so long, you kind of have it down. I needed the reps in camp, but with Earl, he sat out and he’s still able to come in and still able to do his job in a very highlighted way. He did a lot of great things out there so just playing with him, I know where he’s going to be at, I expect to know where he’s at and the other half of it was just me doing my job, and that’s most important.”
Against Chicago, Thomas, McDougald and the rest of Seattle’s defense will try to slow second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, and an offense called by former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich.
“He’s really athletic,” Carroll said of Trubisky. “He ran the ball seven times in the game, so he was out and going. Took off on a couple scrambles, they utilized him, they can run the ball with him, he’s got good suddenness to him, he can make people miss a little bit. That part stood out. He has a really strong arm. He threw some great balls in the game. I mean, he had a nice night completion percentage wise. 23-for-35 is a big night. He looked good and they’ve got a nice running game to complement a young quarterback, which is just how you like to do it. He complemented well.”
It will fall on Seattle’s entire defense to slow down Trubisky and the Bears on Monday, but with the potential for absences at other positions, the safeties could again be key for Seattle’s defense.
As the Seahawks ready for their Monday Night Football matchup with the Bears, running back J.D. McKissic, who's on injured reserve, joined mascots Blitz and Boom, the Sea Gals, Blue Thunder Drumline, and team representatives to help host a Blue Friday celebration at Evergreen High School, where Highline Public Schools will install a synthetic turf field thanks in part to a $250,000 grant from the Seahawks through the NFL Foundation Grassroots Program.